Dune (Dune Chronicles, Book 1) by Frank Herbert
My first experience with Dune was watching part of the David Lynch-directed movie (1984). I didn’t see the movie in a theater; I watched part of it when it came to TV — which was in 1988, according to Wikipedia. I remember being confused by the story, and I didn’t last through the whole movie. (I was 16 years old in 1988.)
I didn’t get around to reading the book until this year, so it’s my second experience. And it lived up to the description of it as one of the masterpieces of science fiction. Actually, it’s a masterpiece of a story — forget about genre for a minute.
This is one of those books that I thought during reading, How the hell did the author create this? As a self-published writer who feels like an amateur, to me the experience was like watching a master magician’s show and scratching my head in wonder about how the tricks were pulled off.
Why do I say this? Because Frank Herbert invented a world with various forces acting upon each other, societies, and histories to form the story’s setting. This is akin to Tolkien’s inventing Middle-earth in which to place The Lord of the Rings.
“I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows.”
– Ernest Hemingway
However, Papa didn’t invent an entire, other-world for a story. Tolkien and Herbert created a huge mass of iceberg to support the tip that can be seen above the water’s surface.
I’m far from an expert in the Dune universe, but I’ll give it a go for the basics around this book…
At the start, House Atreides rules the planet Caladan. House Harkonnen rules Arrakis (Dune), a desert planet where “spice” is collected and shipped to all over. Spice is in demand for its ability to extend life, and to help see into the near future. The Emperor instructs House Atreides to leave Caladan and take over the rule of Arrakis. And, oh yeah, the Atreides and Harkonnens don’t care for each other.
House Atreides has Duke Leto, his “concubine” Lady Jessica, and his son Paul Atreides. Only 15 years old at the beginning of the story, Paul is the book’s main character. He is taught by his parents, as well as several mentors.
Lady Jessica is a Bene Gesserit, an all-female group that runs a school to teach keen powers of observation of others and control of their own bodies. Bene Gesserits act as advisors to the heads of Houses.
There are many groups, each with their own agenda to expand their power. The Houses, the Emperor, the Bene Gesserit, the Guild that controls travel among planets (they’re focused on commerce).
And there are the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, who have learned to live in the very harsh conditions of the desert.
That’s a tiny part of the iceberg. I won’t go further about the plot, since the delight of the book is experiencing events unfold. If you want a plot summary, there’s the Wiki page.
Also, in the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, episode 417 has a really good, in-depth discussion of the book — hosted by David Barr Kirtley with guests Andrea Kail, Rajan Khanna, and Matthew Kressel. The episode is available on Youtube, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.
I’ll wrap up by saying that Dune has political strategizing, knife fights, careful walks over the desert, rituals and life of the Fremen, and trippy moments. And let’s not forget about those enormous worms.
I admired how much ecology Frank Herbert included about Arrakis. Not only does that planet have a delicate ecosystem, the same adjective could be applied to any ecosystem:
“A system maintains a certain fluid stability that can be destroyed by a misstep in just one niche. A system has order, a flowing from point to point. If something dams that flow, order collapses The untrained might miss that collapse until it was too late. That’s why the highest function of ecology is the understanding of consequences.”
— Planetologist Pardot Kynes, quoted in Appendix I: “The Ecology of Dune”
Herbert’s words were published in 1965, five years before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established and the first Earth Day.
One almost-last thing! I never went back to watch the David Lynch movie of the book. Maybe I’ll check it out sometime. More importantly, there’s a new Dune movie directed by Denis Villeneuve. I don’t know when the movie will be released. I was excited seeing the trailer before I read the book, and reading the book made me look forward to the movie even more.
One last thing! The above swoon-worthy cover (yes, I typed swoon-worthy) was designed by Jim Tierney — and he created designs for the series. Please excuse my drooling.